Posted by: oikosasa | November 30, 2012

Are women too busy householding to write Nature papers?

Do you remember the Correspondence in Nature about contributions by women to Nature News and Views, that I wrote about here earlier this autmun? Obviously, the paper made the editor’s of Nature to analyze their situation and to come up with a solution to the problem. The recipe is to ask all editors to make an extra “concious loop” to identify five women to ask when commissioning articles and similar tasks. Most interesting though, is the statement that ” But it is certanly the case that women typically spend more time than men as housemakers and looking after children, further reducing the time available for journal contributions”. I wonder – how many times have Nature editors got that reply from an invited woman? -Sorry I don’t have time to write an invited paper to Nature, have to look after the kids you know? I’m pretty sure that there is no single female scientist out there who makes a choice between householding and writing Nature papers.

Here is Nature’s reply

But I’m curious – are the authors of the original paper happy with the response they have got? From Nature and from others? I asked one of them, Johanna Stadmark some questions:

Johanna_Stadmark_foto1. How much have you and Daniel been involved in the response article? Got the chance to read it before publication?

Nothing, we did not know it was coming, and were happily surprised last Thursday.

2. How easy was it to get Nature publish a paper critisizing their work?

They immediately showed an interest in our study, but with revisions and comments back and forth it took some time. A correspondence should view our opinion, so we did not want to accept all suggested revisions. Nature edited our piece, but we had the possibility to make changes. I think it is of utmost importance for the journals to also accept criticism on their work, it shows that they are serious in their work.

3. What do you think of their reply? And about their suggestion to solve the problem?

I am happy that the idea to think outside of your own network was one thing that they suggested. If you reflect on how you are doing things you also have the possibility to make changes where necessary.

4. Do you think things will change now?

I do. The aim of our piece was to point at an unconscious bias that is occurring, not only in the leading science journals, but also at conferences, workshops etc. Over the last days we have received emails from people telling us where the Nature Editorial has been distributed and if some of these people change the way of selecting people for different tasks we have succeeded.

5. What advice can you give Oikos’ editors to avoid gender biases? (We have just started to invite authors to write forum papers, for example).

Have a protocol, to avoid using the “standard network”. Go and find the best authors irrespective of gender or ethnicity or other irrelevant conditions!

6. And finally, How big do you think, the problem of women spending more time than men householding and caring for children, is for invited papers in Nature?

I do not think that is important. Approximately half of the invited authors are full professors and if you have come that far in your career you have been able to deal with the so-called double tasks. And if you are invited to write a piece like a News & Views- or Perspectives article you do not want to miss the opportunity and you would give it a high priority.

I think the householding and caring for children in some cases can play a role in the advancement of the career and what kind of work you choose (teaching, research, administration). However, there are countries where public day care has been available since the 70’s and where caring of children should not be a task designated to women only. (I know it takes a long time to change society, and we are still not there, but to use “caring for children” as an explanatory parameter is not a good way to go in the discussions of the future, since it could be a fulfilling of an unwanted condition.


  1. […] and for laying out steps that they will take to try to address this. UPDATE: Oikos Blog has an interview with one of the authors of the research that prompted Nature to acknowledge that it has a problem […]

  2. The “But it is certanly the case that women typically spend more time than men as housemakers and looking after children, further reducing the time available for journal contributions” sentence jumped out at me as odd, too, when I first read the piece. (As if time allocations are the biggest obstacles women face…) It seemed out of place in the article, but typically British in tone. Thanks for getting Dr. Stadmark’s perspective on the response.

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